What to look for in an online benefits portal

Constant advances in technology mean that selecting the right employee benefits portal for a workforce can be like trying to hit a moving target. Nevertheless, getting the right design and functionality can be crucial to a portal’s success or failure. Here are some questions for employers to consider when reviewing the market.


1. What does the portal need to achieve?

A good starting point for employers is to work out what they want to achieve, says Matt Duffy, head of online consultancy at Lorica Employee Benefits. “Look at issues such as which benefits are going to be communicated on the platform and whether you want to create a new benefits or reward brand,” he says. “Are there different types of audience and, if so, do there need to be different messages?”

2. Can it provide enough information?

Any portal should aim to provide detailed information about the benefits employees receive, as well as those they have yet to take up, says John Woodward, chief executive of Busy Bees Benefits. “This is important because it takes account of major changes during an employee’s working life, such as buying a car, starting a family or planning for later life,” he says.

3. Which modelling tools does the workforce need?

Modelling tools should be included, enabling employees to see the impact particular benefits could have on their financial situation in the short and long term, including salary sacrifice benefits, workplace individual savings accounts (Isas) and pensions. Daniela Aramu, head of user experience at Thomsons Online Benefits, says: “This is of particular importance for young, inexperienced or highly transient workforces who either tend not to plan for the long term or move between employers with radically different offerings. But any tool has to be relevant and easy to relate to. Modelling tools should vary based on the type of benefit, and allow for personalisation by the employee.”

4. What extra functionality could be useful?

Some employers are using portals to offer staff additional functionality beyond the benefits package, which can give them more reason to access the portal regularly. Chris Brooks, a director at Symatrix, says: “One of our customers even has a capability for crew members to buy, sell and swap shifts on their portal, making it a collaborative tool and empowering those employees.”

5. Is it mobile-enabled?

Any portal will need to offer access from a range of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Derek Irvine, vice-president of client strategy and consulting at Globoforce, says: “The vast majority of today’s workers will have some form of mobile device, and many will have more than one. Without mobile access, organisations are limiting the effectiveness of any benefits programme, both now and in the future.”

6. How can it be communicated?

Communication should be part of any portal project, to promote both the benefits on offer and the portal itself. Girish Menezes, a principal at Xerox, says the key is to identify what works best for staff, including the use of focus groups to understand individual preferences. “Raising awareness and usage of the portal is relatively simple in an office environment where employees would have immediate email and web access,” he says. “But this is far more difficult in stores, factories and for field forces. Here, ingenuity is required to connect with employees cost-effectively.”

Desk drops, posters and roadshows might be appropriate for such locations, he adds.

7. How do different providers’ offerings compare?

It is worth taking time to explore the various options available from different providers. Thomsons Online Benefits’ Aramu says: “There are many differences in online portals, with the most significant being the adoption of the latest technology and the quality of the user experience. With employees becoming more tech-savvy, providing a consumer-grade experience, designed in HTML5, and being device-agnostic has become integral to keeping a benefits platform in line with employees’ online expectations.”

Another important aspect of any portal is the capability for HR administrators to manage reward and communications schemes effectively, she adds.

8. Do you get on well with the provider’s team and culture?

Beyond the technology, a cultural fit is also important, says Lorica’s Duffy. “It’s about the individuals you’re going to work with and their ability to deliver not only the technology, but also the scheme design, project management, communication expertise and administration services,” he says. “Meet them, spend time with them and go to their office. Understand their thinking and make sure it aligns with yours.”